By Emily Schweich and Kimberly Green

The biennial Essential Women’s Leadership Academy (EWLA) aims to decrease gender disparities at the top of the health care organizational ladder. Through 10 months of leadership development training, self-assessment and coaching, mentorship, site visits, and networking, EWLA forms a community of confident and empowered women executives that stays strong even after the program ends.

Leslie Safier, MPH, a 2018 EWLA graduate, says the program gave her the confidence to facilitate challenging conversations in the workplace, along with a valuable community of likeminded leaders. As director of performance improvement at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center (ZSFG), in San Francisco, Safier recently was recognized with the health system’s Values in Action Award, a monthly honor given to a leader who embodies and models the values of “joy in our work” and “thirst in learning and compassionate care.”

Leslie Safier, MPH

She remains close with her mentor, Sinai Health System President and CEO Karen Teitelbaum, and will join four other EWLA alumnae to present “Breaking the Glass Ceiling: The Woman’s Leadership Experience” at VITAL2019, June 19–21, in Miami. The Critical Conversations session will explore gaps, behaviors, and biases that contribute to gender inequities in the workforce, with a special focus on diversity.

Leslie Safier, second from left, with other members of the 2019 EWLA class.

Leslie Safier, second from left, with other members of the 2019 EWLA class.


We spoke with Safier about her experience in EWLA, the importance of setting intentional career goals, and her upcoming presentation at VITAL.

What is one characteristic you believe every leader should possess?

I think every leader should have a sense of curiosity — curiosity to imagine things differently, ask questions, and continuously learn.

Describe your leadership style.

My leadership style is relationship-driven and collaborative. I seek to create connections across my organization and encourage new ideas and tests of change. I try to bring humor and enthusiasm (when appropriate) into my interactions. I work to cultivate a culture of learning and development. I strive to create trusting relationships and practice humility.

How, if at all, has your leadership style changed since participating in the Essential Women’s Leadership Academy?

One critical thing I learned through EWLA is that leadership identities are continuously evolving. My experience at EWLA has led me to be less avoidant of critical conversations; I have hard conversations regularly. I have more control over my reactions and greater confidence in my speech and interactions.

I’ve learned to better facilitate conversations to be more inclusive of different viewpoints and to manage my staff by focusing on who they are and what motivates them. I’ve been more intentional about developing women in my organization. My mentor, Karen Teitelbaum, shared with me a wonderful piece of advice: “Lead into the void.” I have stepped into leadership roles within ambiguous projects and charted a course forward.

What does it mean to you to receive Zuckerberg’s monthly leadership honor?

It means so much to me to be recognized for my leadership by my colleagues. I am extremely humbled and grateful for this honor. I am very thankful for the support of my ​team, peers and leadership at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center. Receiving this award is a signal to me that my leadership style is working — it shows I am making a positive impact on my organization.

What are you doing to ensure you continue to grow and develop as a leader?

I think feedback is an invaluable element to growth. I ask my colleagues, staff, boss, and mentor for feedback regularly, and I work to modify my behaviors or approaches based on feedback received. I’ve started saying “yes” more to opportunities that promote my growth. As one example, I will join the University of California Berkeley’s Public Health Alumni Association board in July. I’ve started speaking and presenting more — including my upcoming VITAL2019 presentation!

I practice hard conversations regularly and focus on developing my staff into strong, effective leaders. My mentor has continued to be generous with her time, and we talk monthly. In the VITAL2019 presentation, I will talk about “tiara syndrome,” in which women believe if they just work hard, they will be promoted. After the EWLA program, I’ve become much more intentional regarding my career growth ambitions, and I encourage other women to be intentional about their own career goals.

Why is it important to you and your peers to share the lessons you learned during EWLA at VITAL2019?

I had such a powerful experience through the EWLA program. Both the content of the sessions and the ability to connect with an incredible group of woman leaders across the country deeply affected me.

There are many woman leaders within America’s Essential Hospitals organizations across the country that could benefit from this experience; however, our cohort was only 11 people. We wanted to share some of our key takeaways with a larger audience and thought VITAL2019 would be an excellent venue. Woman are underrepresented in positions of leadership and, ultimately, we would like to see that change!

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

It is immensely helpful to engage with people outside of your organization. It allows you to really expand your mindset, consider different perspectives, and grow. I’m grateful for the opportunity to broaden my network by participating in the EWLA program.

In one sentence, what is your advice to women looking to succeed in health care leadership?

Recognize your value and own your success!

If you’re attending VITAL2019, join Safier and a panel of 2018 EWLA alumnae for “Breaking the Glass Ceiling: The Woman’s Leadership Experience,” on Thursday, June 20, at 8 am. Applications for the 2020 EWLA program will open in fall 2019. Read more about the program and submit an interest form online.